There are many versions of Lebanese ka’ik (or ka’ak), some biscuit-like and others bread-like. This spiced, glazed sweet bread version is filled with dates and pressed for a beautiful imprint on top. Find the molds at Maureen Abood Market.
As I was noting recently, the scent of what’s cooking in the kitchen has a powerful effect on all who enter the house.
Unless there is burn, that unmistakable scent of failure hanging in the air, the cook generally feels pretty great about the aromas that indicate hey, something delicious is happening here.
I’ve been baking ka’ik lately, getting the scents of the upcoming Lebanese-style Easter season all riled up in the kitchen. For us, that means the mahleb-anise-yeastiness of ka’ik, which is perfect just as it is, and a gilded lily when filled with a mixture of date paste and toasted walnuts.
When my brother Chris came in one evening recently, the scent of ka’ik was still among us in the kitchen from an afternoon of baking. “What is that scent?” he asked, hand over nose, laughing.
“It’s this!,” I said, holding out a super duper soft, beautifully imprinted, glazed ka’ik for him. I didn’t want to say “it’s anise!” because I knew for sure that was the reason he was laughing.
He launched into how he was traumatized as a kid, traumatized to walk in after school when Aunt Louise (my mother-in-law…just an “aunt” by affection, not blood line…) was at our house baking these . . . these . . . what are they, cookies?. . . with Mom.
His eleven-year-old self could not believe that he had left for school with the understanding that there would be Easter cookies baking at home that day (to him that must have meant frosted cut-out eggs or something), only to find on his return the scent of black licorice permeating his world. Chris says he had never smelled that before –(not true)—and he was seriously wondering how he would survive living on Wagon Wheel Lane for even one more minute with that scent hanging all over the entire house.
Ahhh, gotta love Aboods; emphasis is a well-honed skill.
Clearly no amount of trying to persuade my brother to taste the ka’ik again to see what he thinks of them now, with his adult palate, was going to fly. It’s true that I’m one of those pushers of food who thinks she can convince you that you do like it even, or especially, when you say you don’t. I channel the mother in My Big Fat Greek Wedding: “Ian, are you hungry?” No, I just ate. “Okay, I make you something.”
But while I can’t accept that Chris had never encountered the aroma of anise in our house before that day (my mom is an anise lover of the highest order), I was riveted by his other point.
As a cookie, well yes, this may well disappoint; very little if anything about this version of k’aik fulfills cookie expectations. Yet that is what most everyone I know calls them. “Easter cookies.” I beg the court’s indulgence: ka’ik is dough like bread, risen twice like bread, smells and bakes and tastes and warms up . . . like bread.
I even titled my recipe “Spiced Sweet Breads with Rose Water Milk Glaze” in my cookbook, trying to be as accurate as possible about what these really are, in all of their glory, so people would know what to expect.
I wouldn’t want to be responsible for someone telling their kid they’re baking Easter Cookies, only for that poor little koosa to come home from school and discover he’s been had.
Ka’ik (KAH-ick) are known as Easter cookies and are traditionally made during the Easter season. There are many versions of ka’ik, some biscuit-like (see these) and others soft and donut-like (see this recipe), and still others bread-like. This recipe is the latter, which is fragrant with spices and subtly sweet. The ka’ik freezes well, or keep at room temperature covered tightly and eat within a couple of days. But there is nothing like ka'ik fresh from the oven. I'm proud to share beautiful ka'ik molds for sale at Maureen Abood Market here.
For the dough:
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup clarified butter
- 1 1/3 cups whole milk
- 5 1/2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
- 1 tablespoon mahleb, freshly ground
- 2 tablespoons anise seed, freshly ground
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon olive oil, to coat the bowl
For the filling:
- 1 cup date paste (you can make your own by pulverizing whole pitted dates)
- 2 tablespoons toasted walnuts, chopped (optional)
For the glaze:
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup half and half
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon rose water
Proof the yeast by dissolving it in 1/4 cup of warm water with a tablespoon of the sugar. After about 10 minutes, the yeast will activate, becoming creamy and foamy.
Warm the clarified butter and milk in a small saucepan over low heat or in the microwave just until the butter is melted.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the hook attachment, or by hand in a large bowl, combine the yeast mixture with the remaining ¾ cup sugar, flour, mahleb, anise, nutmeg, sesame seeds and salt. Slowly add the butter and milk and mix on low speed or by hand until dough forms. Increase the speed on the mixer to knead the dough for five minutes, or by hand on the counter for 10 minutes.
Lightly oil a large bowl with the olive oil. Coat the dough in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap, then a clean kitchen towel. Set the dough in a warm spot to rise for 2 hours.
To create a warm setting for the balls to rise again, place a kitchen towel on the counter and cover with plastic wrap. Divide the dough into 18 pieces by cutting or squeezing off balls about 2 ½ inches wide (the size can be larger or smaller, to your liking). Place the balls on this about 2 inches apart, cover with more plastic wrap and another towel. Let the balls rise for ½ hour.
Heat the oven to 325 degrees, with a rack in the center of the oven. If using a new ka’ik mold, lightly brush it with oil.
Combine the date paste and walnuts either by hand, or in a processor.
To fill the dough with dates, flatten a dough ball. Take a tablespoon of the date mixture and flatten that, then place it in the center of the flattened dough. Pull the dough up around the filling and pinch it closed.
Press the ball of dough into the mold firmly with the palm of your hand numerous times without lifting the dough to get the imprint on the top of the dough, taking care to keep the date filling covered with dough where your hand is pressing down. Carefully remove and place face-up on an ungreased sheet pan. Repeat this process with the remaining dough, baking six at a time. If using your hands to shape the dough, flatten each ball with the palm of your hand. Pinch the edges five or six times around the circle and poke with the tines of a fork over the top. Bake one sheet pan at a time if using two pans.
While the ka'ik bakes, make the glaze. Heat the butter, half and half, sugar and rose water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer for one minute, then remove from heat. Pour the glaze into a dish wide enough to dip the ka’ik in.
Glaze the ka’ik while they are still warm. Dip each sweet bread face-down into the glaze and place on a cooling rack to dry.
Keep the ka’ik well-covered or in an airtight container for up to three days. Eat them at room temperature, toasted, or warm them in a low oven.